I think auditors will enjoy the movie Spotlight and the dialogue of auditing. The movie won Academy Awards for best picture and best writing for its story about real events in Boston. A small team of investigative reporters dig into allegations of child sexual abuse among the Catholic clergy and discover the truths that we now all sadly know.
We know that the church at its highest administrative levels was moving abuser priests from parish to parish and suppressing information about their crimes. As auditors we know that managers and staff of organizations are often aware of problems and only push them elsewhere, without ending them. We also know that a code of silence allows that to happen. For those that speak out, there can be threats, discredit, and personal repercussions. There are other true stories about organizations that close themselves off from outsiders, whether they are police, doctors, or soldiers.
In this case the church, through its attorneys, actively suppressed the truth and undermined a critical trust with its members. As auditors we penetrate those organizational walls which makes it difficult for public agencies to suppress problems.
A key decision in the movie was when to publish the story. The ‘Spotlight Team’ had the story about some abusive priests but the editor, played by Liev Schreiber, said that they couldn’t get the church to change without addressing the system of corruption. He said that the church could dismiss a story about an errant priest or two, but couldn’t dismiss a charge that the church was systematically hiding the truth. He made the team go beyond the simple story to the practices of the church leaders. As auditors we often look for the pattern of problems because that can trigger change more than a ‘one-off’ situation that management can relegate to the past.
A data analysis trick shows up that auditors will see and think is obvious. Watch for it.
There are other parallels you’ll see with auditing as well, but I’ll end with one more. The Catholic Church plays a huge part in the Boston community and at a gathering one of the church representatives approaches Schreiber, who is relatively new to the job incidentally. The representative says that Boston benefits when large institutions work together. Schreiber says that he has always thinks that newspapers best serve the community when they remain separate. Auditor independence.
It’s a very well told story that is well worth watching, and it ends with a challenge to us all to be alert and take action.